Portugal’s quick actions against the Coronavirus helped maintain a lower infection rate than neighbours Spain.
NEIGHBOURS Portugal and Spain have much in common, they share the same peninsula, their climates are similar and they have a close family-oriented society. However, whilst the Coronavirus has incapacitated Spain, Portugal has only suffered from a fraction of its infections and deaths,
Spain has now recorded almost 26,000 Covid-19 deaths, yet Portugal, with a quarter of the population, has recorded just over 1,000. As both countries begin to ease their lockdowns, Portugal fears a second wave of infections could reverse the success achieved to its quick response, extensive testing and strong social support.
Portugal detected its first coronavirus cases on March 2, a month later than Italy and Spain. The government declared a state of emergency 16 days after the outbreak began, by which time the country had recorded 642 cases and two deaths. In comparison, Spain announced tough lockdown measures about six weeks after the first case appeared, by which time it had recorded almost 5,800 cases and 200 deaths.
Even before lockdown was enforced, many Portuguese people had chosen to stay at home. People were following reports from Italy and Spain and decided to take matters into their own hands, which was a critical element in the quick response.
Residents were able to arrange work from home and the government introduced a furlough scheme under which laid-off workers received two-thirds of their wages, of which the state pays 70 per cent.
So far Portugal has tested more than 350,000 people for Covid-19, after building a network that can complete more than 15,000 tests a day. More than 60 state, university and private labs worked together to test as many people as possible, primarily focusing on health workers and nursing home residents.
But as Portugal adjusts to a gradual relaxation of confinement measures, health specialists and politicians fear a second wave of the pandemic could hit it hard.
The government has approved a three-phase plan to ease the lockdown, including the compulsory use of face masks in many public spaces and remote working whenever possible. Small shops will be allowed to open first, followed by bigger stores in the second and third phases. Remote teaching will remain in place for most children until the end of the academic year. Portuguese scientists are close to implementing a system of antibody testing that will show if people have been infected with Coronavirus. This will initially be targeted at frontline health workers.